More good news for Californians, the Sig Sauer P365 and several other new pistols have now been added to California’s “Safe Handgun Roster.” Many of us, including myself were eagerly awaiting this day… for the past four years. Recently, Sig was able to get the M18 on the roster as well. Now while this is good news for those of us who live in the state, it’s also a reminder of the two-and-a-half decades of firearm innovations that we have been restricted from.
The legality of the roster is still before the courts and ultimately will be struck down at some point during the process as it is being evaluated in light of the Bruen decision, and there is no historical analog.
This article will not summarize the totality of the 25 year old restriction, rather, I aim to shed some light on this California invention so we may understand the facts, history, and think critically about this particular issue.
The State of California has been the leading historical perpetrator of “Gun control” in the U.S. for decades, with the California Handgun Roster being just one of many controversial and constitutionally questionable examples.
It is officially known as the Certified Handgun List, a catalog of handguns that have been deemed by the state to meet certain safety and functionality standards and are thus allowed to be sold within California.
- Safety Mechanisms: All semi-automatic handguns must have both a loaded chamber indicator and a magazine disconnect mechanism. A magazine disconnect mechanism is a mechanism that prevents the gun from discharging a round when the magazine is not engaged.
- Microstamping: New models of semi-automatic handguns submitted for approval must incorporate microstamping technology. This means that when a gun is fired, it stamps the bullet casing with a unique set of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the gun. (We will discuss this more later)
- Drop Safety: The handgun must pass drop safety requirements to ensure it will not accidentally discharge if dropped. This testing involves dropping the firearm from different angles and ensuring it does not fire.
- Materials Quality: The gun must be constructed of quality materials that are not likely to bend, break, or deform under standard conditions of use and handling.
- Performance Testing: Manufacturers must submit samples of the handgun model for firing testing to demonstrate reliability and safe function.
- Dimensional Requirements: Handguns with a dimension of fewer than 7.5 inches in length, or less than 4.5 inches in height, or with a barrel length of under 3 inches for semi-automatic pistols, or under 2 inches for revolvers, are not eligible for the roster.
- Fees: The manufacturer must pay a fee for each model to be tested and listed. And pay fees in perpetuity to keep the model on the roster… So, if companies stop paying the state protection money the gun becomes ‘unsafe’ again and cannot be sold anymore.
Origin of the California Handgun Roster
Proposal and Reasons
The California Handgun Roster was proposed with the intention of “Reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths by ensuring that only handguns meeting certain safety requirements could be sold in the state.” Advocates argued that mandating features like loaded chamber indicators, magazine disconnect mechanisms, and microstamping technology, accidental discharges and crimes involving firearms could be reduced.
The roster was established through the passage of Senate Bill 15 (SB 15), which was signed into law in 1999. SB 15 amended the Penal Code to create a process for determining whether a handgun model is safe and subsequently can be sold, manufactured in, and imported into California. It has been updated and amended by subsequent legislation to include additional “safety features” and requirements, notably microstamping.
Exemptions From the Roster
Certain exemptions were included in the roster’s framework from its inception. For instance, law enforcement officers were allowed to purchase and use off-roster handguns. The exemption was meant to enable officers to access firearms that are not available to the general public, under the assumption that their training and experience would mitigate safety concerns.
However, California requires all firearm purchasers to prove they are a “Safe operator” through a $35 Firearms Safety Card, Hunters Safety, CCW, military service, etc. So *Shrug*
Law Enforcement Officers and Off-Roster Guns
The exemption for law enforcement officers led to unintended consequences. There have been several instances where officers were arrested for abusing this exemption by purchasing off-roster handguns and selling them to non-law enforcement individuals at inflated prices. (When I say inflated, I mean a Gen 5 Glock 19 for $2K). If you don’t believe me go to Calguns.com and check out the prices for gen 5 Glock, S&W M&P 2.0s, and Sig 320s (Sigs not anymore, and I feel for anyone who purchased one in July).
These actions not only contravened the spirit of the roster but also resulted in a black market of sorts for firearms not accessible to the general public. Not to mention it really doesn’t make sense and there was a lot of money made by some of those officers, many of whom were subsequently arrested.
Price Inflation of Firearms
As a direct consequence of the restricted supply of certain handgun models, the price of off-roster guns skyrocketed in the state. This price inflation was exacerbated by the demand from individuals who sought specific guns, like the Shooting Illustrated 2019 Handgun of the Year Sig p365 (available and in common use in 49 states).
Revenue Generated from the Roster
Buckle up because this is going to get nerdy, and probably a little bit bumpy.
I had a very difficult time finding specific information on a lot of this, it ultimately took me a couple weeks, a few phone calls and contacting several companies who have firearms on the roster. Certain information is available publicly here, but I will warn you it leads down a lot of rabbit holes.
I have not been able to find a dollar amount generated from the roster published anywhere. However, I have been able to find certain dollar figures and we will use some maths to draw conclusions.
The CA roster classifies these firearms by SKU, meaning a change in generation, really any deviation necessitates a new submission.
- Application fee: $200
- $200 yearly fee
There are currently 1,524 decertified SKU models that used to be on the California roster and 881 active SKUs.
Adding up the initial application fee that number respectively comes to $304,800 and $176,200 for a total of $481,000 spent to get handguns on the roster. However, it is unclear if firearms that were currently being sold had to pay for roster admission.
That is a lot of money, however that is only the initial application fee. Bear in mind each year a manufacturer must continue to pay this protection money for the privilege to access the market. If all firearms currently on the roster are renewed that means the state will receive $176,200.
In the grand scheme of things this doesn’t really seem to matter all that much, but when you consider very few firearms were added to the roster since the 2006 micro stamp requirement we must take into account that the vast majority of the 2,405 SKUs associated with the state roster have been on there since it’s inception. This means that the first renewal of the roster saw $481,000, minus $200 for any SKU that was not renewed.
I would like to point out, and you will notice the same pattern if you view the decertified list, that 50% of the decertified list was decertified in 2014 and after. This coincides with manufactures such as Sig Sauer not renewing models chambered in .40 S&W and 357 Sig. The larger point to this is the roster has been in place for nearly 25 years, in that time these fees alone have generated somewhere around $10,000,000.
I was really hoping this would be a metaphorical smoking gun, showing that California was keeping the roster because it was lucrative for the state. However in a state the size of California this is just another slow drop in the bucket, especially compared to the estimated $20 Billion California lost to unemployment fraud during the pandemic.
The only other way California could be making money is if they charged for or administered testing. It is unclear if there are any additional charges associated with testing that reach the state, however testing is currently only administered by two labs, one being NTS which also certifies body armor.
Possible Intentions of the Roster
Beyond the publicly stated goal of enhancing public safety, there were other possible reasons for the implementation of the roster. Many speculate that it was intended to limit the overall number of handguns in circulation within California, to introduce a de facto ban on semiautomatic handguns, and to pressure manufacturers to comply with specific design criteria that are not related to the functionality or safety of the firearm. If we look at the recently struck down 3-1 rule this argument has validity. The 3-1 rule stated that for every new handgun added to the roster three older models had to be removed.
Legal Challenges to the Roster
The roster faced several legal challenges, with opponents arguing that it constituted an infringement on Second Amendment rights. Critics claimed that the microstamping requirement, in particular was unfeasible, thereby limiting the availability of new models on the roster.
Micro stamping was added in 2006, the technology neither exists nor would be reliable. Not to mention a simple firing pin swap would remove the stamp.
The micro stamp requirement has now been kicked down the road until 2028 due to legal challenges.
Court Rulings and Rationale
Court cases challenging the roster, such as Pena v. Lindley have been unsuccessful in overturning the law. The courts generally ruled the state has the right to regulate commercial sales of firearms and the safety benefits of the roster are sufficient to justify its restrictions.
More recently, Boland v Bonta has gone under review and resulted in a preliminary injunction against magazine disconnects, loaded chamber indicators, and microstamping as an over restrictive combination. This has been continued until it will be decided in court trial set for Tuesday, Feb 27th 2024. This is the reason we are now seeing more firearms added to the roster.
The Bruen Decision and Its Implications
The 2022 Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, set a new precedent for evaluating gun control laws. The Court’s decision emphasized that laws restricting Second Amendment rights must be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Notably, there has never been an example of a firearm roster requiring/restricting specific features older than 30 years, in this, California and Maine stand alone.
Changes to the California Handgun Roster
While the Bruen decision did not directly address the California Handgun Roster its implications influence current challenges to the roster. The ruling states laws like the roster need to be firmly grounded in historical precedent, tradition, and text to withstand constitutional scrutiny. It opens the door for new arguments against the roster, which we have already seen succeed initially.
Oh boy, when I started this three weeks ago I really thought I knew where this was going. That changed almost instantly, and countless rabbit holes later we arrive here. What initially began as an announcement/celebration of the Sig p365 being added turned into a long investigation into state overreach, fundraising, and ultimately a long look at how good intentions (Stay tuned) became a slippery slope into severe infringement.
In the process of it all I reached my tentative conclusions. I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the initial intension of the roster as it began in the 1990’s. Here is why, during and before this time there were incidents of certain firearms that were cheaply made and lacked safety features to prevent accident discharge, and discharge if dropped (I would elaborate but I don’t want to get sued). There was a deputy my father knew who was killed when his weapon hit the ground after he dropped it. He was not the only one, which makes drop safe handguns sound more appealing.
During and prior to this time as well, there were popular models of semi automation handguns such as the Smith and Wesson model 39 which had magazine disconnects (For some reason) that were marketed as a safety feature. Furthermore, loaded chamber indicators sound like they would increase safety because, let’s face it, some people don’t know what they are doing around firearms.
With all of this said, I can see why the first version of the roster may have actually come form good intentions to increase safety and push manufacturers to make firearms drop safe.
Regardless of the original intention of the roster, it was clearly impacted by political agendas further down the line. Requiring microstamping when the technology does not exist, and defending it so rigorously demonstrates the roster in its current state is about nothing more than control.
“All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.” Marbury vs. Madison, 5 US (2 Cranch) 137, 174, 176, (1803)
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.